Low Bar/High Bar

We spent last week with Mike Breen and the team from 3D Ministries strategizing the launch of our missional communities.  For the last year, we’ve been working at laying the leadership foundations in preparation for their launch.  The primary vehicle for that foundation is what we call the huddle.  I’ll attempt to break down what we’re doing into three sections. (1) How we’re making disciples. (2) A crucial mistake we made early on. (3) Why we are setting the bar very, very low.

How we’re making disciples.

Everyone knows we are supposed to make disciples, but no one knows how to do it.  It’s the open secret of the evangelical world. Dallas Willard gets close in his ‘Curriculum for Christlikeness’ (if you are serious about making disciples, put everything down and go read his trilogy: The Spirit of the Disciplines, The Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart.  It’s essential reading on the subject), but even there it stops just shy of being hands-on-do-this-and-then-this-and-then-that practical.  Here’s why I think most attempts fall short.

I can’t count the numbers of times I’ve heard (and said) “We need to make disciples.”  I can count the number of times I’ve heard talk about the vehicle for doing it.  At the risk of massive over-generalization, we all seem to think discipleship equals some mix of theology, Bible knowledge, prayer, attendance at the things we put on (face it, we all think the way we do it is the ‘right’ way), giving money (again, to whatever it is we are leading) and whatever ‘factor x’ it is that your movement/denomination pushes as their distinctive.

I’m not saying those things don’t matter, I’m just aware that whatever mix I’d been using didn’t actually work. As I look back at my efforts, I have to honestly say that any fruit that’s come has been by accident.  Of course I know theologically that fruit is the gift of the Holy Spirit, but I’d argue that the Holy Spirit has had to do his work in spite of me, not because of me.  Perhaps you can relate.

It seems overly simple to say it, but I’ve begun to do what Jesus did.  Me plus six guys (I’m pretty sure my discipling competence does not equal that of our risen Lord) meeting every week to discuss how we live our lives in terms of the Kingdom of God.  Specifically, we are learning a shared language about what it means to follow Jesus.  I’ve never seen this kind of fruit before. Never.  The massive challenge I gave to them at the start was two-fold: (1) Be committed to this. (2) You’ll do this for a few others.  Our next round of huddles starts in short order.

A crucial mistake we made early on.

An army has two types of soldiers: Special Forces and foot soldiers. The Green Berets/Army Army Rangers/Navy Seals are the guys who get the incredibly difficult mission done regardless the cost.  They may break a leg, get shot 5 times, lose an eyeball, have a foot blown off…but they will get the mission done.  No price is too great.  The foot soldiers, while brave, go to the infirmary for a headache (I’m stereotyping, I know).  They’ll get it done eventually, but if the price is high, you’d better send in the special forces.

Guess which soldier is featured in documentaries on the National Geographic channel?  Guess who everyone fears in a bar fight? Guess which ones we lift up as the “real” heroes? While I’m overstating the case a bit, there are corollaries.  We set the bar so high for mission that only the ‘Green Berets’ sign up.  For us, that means only the people who want to go rescue the strippers from their life in the sex trade that is East St Louis are welcome.  Those are the people I want to have lunch with, encourage, pour into, listen to, beat on the shoulders, etc.  Can you relate? But here’s what I’ve learned: It’s a mistake.

One of the reasons we couldn’t get the first wave of missional communities off the ground was because I was describing something only Green Berets could do.  I thought in setting the bar high, I’d raise the tide in the harbor for all the ships. Nada. In fact, I got the exact opposite.  Blank stares.  Shuffling feet. Throat clearing. Me perplexed and slightly judgmental in my spirit.

Why we are setting the bar very, very low.

Here’s what Jesus does:  The bar is very, very high to be a disciple.  Follow me.  Let the dead bury their own dead.  Hate your mom and dad.  Take up your cross and die.  I would counts those as considerable bar-raising challenges.  And of course there is a commensurate invitation. My yoke is easy.  Take heart, I’ve overcome the world.  I am with you always. Your father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.

But then, after this ridiculous bar-raising exercise called the invitation to discipleship, Jesus lowers the bar. In Luke 9-10, Jesus essentially says this: ‘Go out and find some people you like.  Make sure they like you too.  If they do, stay with them, hang out with them and help them understand my kingdom.  If you can’t find anyone who likes you, leave.’  Excuse me?  Seriously? This is right where Mike pushed my buttons last week. Set the bar incredibly high for discipleship (with a commensurately high level of invitation) and set the bar incredibly low for mission.  Mission must be doable by the foot soldiers or the army never wins the battle.

I’m still working out what that means, but I’ve changed my language in talking to people (even the guys in my huddle) about what missional communities are.  I’m no longer saying  “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” as my lead-in descriptor of what Missional Communities do.  Instead, I’m saying that Missional Communities are like a big, warm extended family that serves together.

I’m learning.